Now that this year’s Academy Awards nominations have been announced, ‘tis the “season” for revisiting some of the best movies of the past year. But in addition to the creating and enjoying of the films themselves, there is another issue which those in the film industry, along with the Library’s digital preservation partners, are researching and working on behind the scenes – preservation of these digital films.
Several years ago, a report called “The Digital Dilemma” was published by NDIIPP partner, and Digital Preservation Pioneer, AMPAS. This report focused on digital preservation issues for major Hollywood studio films, as well as for other larger digital film projects produced by commercial, scientific and government organizations.
In January of this year, the same organization published a follow up report, “The Digital Dilemma 2: Perspectives from Independent Filmmakers, Documentarians and Nonprofit Audiovisual Archives” (the pdf available on this page.)
As stated on the report page:
The Digital Dilemma 2 focuses on the more acute challenges faced by independent filmmakers, documentarians and nonprofit audiovisual archives. While 75 percent of theatrically released motion pictures are independently produced, these communities typically lack the resources, personnel and funding to address sustainability issues that are available to major Hollywood studios and other large, deep-pocketed enterprises. Independent filmmakers create – and nonprofit film archives collect and store – a sizeable part of moving image and sound heritage.
This latest report includes a brief history of this industry, and details the results of interviews with independent filmmakers and documentarians covering their use and management of digital materials, and other unique challenges faced by this community. There is also a section focused on marketing and distribution, as well as on nonprofit audiovisual archives (the destination for many of these films) discussing their methods of digital preservation and access, file formats, storage systems, and basic preservation practices. The archives section also includes some recommendations from archivists that would help advance their efforts, such as development of software tools specifically for audiovisual archives.
Though the report’s focus is on long term preservation, according to the results of the study’s surveys, most of the filmmakers had more immediate concerns. That is, getting their films viewed by an audience, and moving to the next project. And it’s no wonder – digital preservation is a particular challenge here, not only due to lack of resources, but to the many technical issues involved (such as the very large file sizes for digital films, for example). The report concludes with some proposals to help filmmakers and archives advance their digital preservation strategy.
As always with a major report such as this, especially as AMPAS is one of our digital preservation partners, we spread the word through social media channels (facebook, and twitter “@ndiipp”). And word is indeed spreading – here are a few recent articles that do a good job of putting this issue in context:
- T. Reed writes in “Film Courage”: Time vs. Technology and the Frailty of Digital Media,
- An article by David S. Cohen in “Variety”s Technology News,
- And this from “The Verge”, by Jesse Hicks, which generated a good bit of discussion in the comments section.
Both Digital Dilemma reports, and all the discussion they inspire, further reinforce the basic idea that any kind of digital media is indeed fragile, and that while access and distribution of materials is made easier, long-term stability – for film as well as all other digital items – is in a race against time.